Illegal file sharers do it ‘cos it’s cool

Most illegal file sharers see themselves as the ‘Robin Hoods of the digital age’, new research shows.

Joe Cox, of the University of Portsmouth Business School, used Finnish national survey data, which detiled the file sharing habits, socio-economic status and attitudes towards legal and illegal file sharing of 61,03 respondents from a range of income brackets. Ninety-five per cent were male and the average age was 28.

“Some file sharers see themselves as masked philanthropists – the Robin Hoods of the digital age,” says Cox.

“They believe their activities shouldn’t be considered illegal, which means finding the most appropriate form of deterrence and punishment is extremely difficult.”

Cox separates file sharers into two groups, which he dubs ‘leechers’ and ‘seeders’. Leechers are those who download digital media illegally from other parties, but don’t explicitly make content available in return. Seeders are those who have acquired the material in the first instance and are making it available to leechers.

“It’s a fascinating area to research, because the seeders who are sharing the material appear to have little obvious gain and are certainly not doing it for any financial reward,” he says.

“My research shows they are motivated by feelings of altruism, community spirit and are seeking recognition among other members of the file sharing community. I think it’s likely some benefit is also derived from a feeling of ‘getting one over on the system’ too.”

Seeders, he says, seem to consider the expected cost of punishment to be minimal – largely because they think they’re unlikely to be caught.

“It’s as if they believe the peer esteem they’ll generate from their infamy will outweigh any of the costs associated with their activities,” says Cox – in other words, it’s cool.